Do sports perform an essential service?

Margaret R. McDowell,
Margaret R. McDowell

"Just to hit the ball ... and touch 'em all ... A moment in the sun; It's a-gone and you can tell that one goodbye ..." — from "Centerfield," as performed by John Fogerty

At a time when we most need our games, we don't have them.

My mother and father emigrated from Ireland and settled on Chicago's northwest side. They were much too busy making a living and raising a family to follow sports very closely. Occasionally we journeyed to Wrigley Field and cheered for Ron Santo and Ernie Banks and our lovable Cubs in person. But our relationship with sports was entirely casual and virtually incidental.

Then, I moved south and shortly thereafter, married a Southerner, one whose relationship with sports is anything but casual. In autumn, there's a different college football game playing on every television in the house, just so he can keep abreast of the scores as he moves from room to room, performing Saturday chores. In the spring, there's college basketball, The Masters Golf Tournament and college baseball games each weekend.

During these last few weeks, with no ball games of any kind to watch, I have come to understand better how sports provide a rhythm and texture to our weekends. My husband is still moving about, sweeping the lanai, cleaning the cars, picking up the yard and exercising, but there's no games to punctuate his weekends, no background noise, no updates and scores. No Masters, no Madness, no college baseball.

For him and millions of others, spring is blooming without honeybees and roses. I love to watch cooking and home and garden shows as I putter on the weekends, but if these programs were canceled as sports have been, there would be a large empty spot in my own Saturdays.

The cessation of sport has caused me to consider the question: In a time of a global pandemic, is it unseemly for us to long for ball games on TV? History says it's not, because sports have helped us navigate some hard times. Seabiscuit's racing victories were a welcome diversion from the economic trauma of the Great Depression. In January of 1942, President Roosevelt wrote what became known as "The Green Light Letter," urging that baseball continue to be played during World War II.

We are all concerned about our country's health. Our country's spirit must be kept alive as well. Sports help do that.

In recent weeks I have begun to recognize how important are the things which provide us respite and relief, and the pivotal place they occupy in our lives. Life cannot be all work and worry or none of us would make it to retirement, with or without a nest egg. Healthy diversions, like sports, are a valuable part of our lives. Maybe even essential ones.

Major League Baseball is considering playing some games next month with tested players and no fans in Arizona. It's not ideal, but it's a start.

We can't gather and cheer our favorite teams right now. But soon, we'll need to.

Margaret R. McDowell, ChFC, AIF, author of the syndicated economic column "Arbor Outlook," is the founder of Arbor Wealth Management, LLC, (850-608-6121 — www.arborwealth.net), a “fee-only” registered investment advisory firm located near Sandestin.